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Beauty & Thinking

May 12, 2017

Does enjoying beauty require thought?



What makes beauty different from other pleasures? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant said people enjoy sensuous pleasures, like eating or sex, without thinking, but the pleasure of experiencing beauty requires conscious thought. In the journal Current Biology, New York University researchers Denis Pelli and Aenne Brielmann report putting Kant to the test by having volunteers look at beautiful images or eat treats while being distracted by an audio-based task. Brielmann explains.

AENNE BRIELMANN (New York University):

If beauty requires thought and we take it away from you, then you should not be able to experience it any more.


And that’s what they found: the distracting task reduced volunteers’ enjoyment of beauty much more than it did their enjoyment of eating candy, suggesting that thinking is essential to experiencing beauty. They’re now using brain imaging to  better understand pleasure’s neural underpinnings. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon